How to write a great introduction

Picture of blue neon light on dark background spelling 'hello'

Introducing your book well is vital to grab readers’ attention and gain traction.

Think of it this way: when potential readers are ploughing through numerous books on online platforms, they can experience overwhelm.

What they’re looking for is a title that speaks to them.

And as an author, you don’t have much time to engage that audience.

Your introduction will be one of the first things readers see as part of your online book preview (e.g. the ‘Look Inside’ facility on Amazon).

Readers check this to decide: (a) if your book is right for them; (b) whether it’s interesting and sufficiently relevant to them to invest their time and hard-earned.

How you set out your stall for your book can heavily influence their motivation to buy, so that first chapter has to be really good and sell, both you as an author and your value proposition.

Before going any further, it’s worth mentioning that a preface and introduction are not the same (for more on this, see here). A preface briefly discusses how the book came to be written, what informed its creation. It doesn’t go into the actual content or what it’s going to do for readers – that’s where your introduction comes in.

Here’s how to create a snappy intro that turns book browsers into buyers – and, hopefully, your very own loyal author tribe.

Give them a brief outline
It’s fine not to go into great detail of your content here, we’re just talking precis: a teaser.  Don’t give it all away; instead, whet the reader’s appetite with the promise of your content.

If you’re writing a how-to guide or practical book, appeal both to their emotions and their rational side: let them know you see and understand what their pain points are, and discuss how this book is going to solve these for them.

Be honest
But – and this is really important! – don’t oversell, make outrageous claims or promise things your book genuinely isn’t going to deliver.

Trust and authenticity are key: non-fiction readers – businesspeople especially – are a savvy bunch. Employing hyperbole is by far the fastest way for them to feel cheated – not only into having bought your book, but believing in its offer.

The aim should be for readers to come out of your book raving that it did exactly what it said on the tin for them: that it’s useful, engaging and fantastic.

Establish authority
Tell your own story, and position yourself as someone who has the expert knowledge to solve their problem.

If you have a system, outline it briefly, so the reader sees that by the end of the book they’ll have a clear process to follow and practical takeaways.

Be reassuring: let them know that it is possible, they can address their issue and the book will guide them through it.

Write a strong sign-off
This is something I often see as an editor: chapters that end somewhat abruptly, saying what they need to say but without a clear pathway forward.

Segueing readers smoothly into the next content is a significant part of navigating them through your book. This is an important mark of good construction and narrative flow, as it avoids stopping the reader in their tracks.

At the end of an introduction, you want to pique their curiosity, entice them to continue. End the chapter with upbeat, positive feeling and a sense of embarking on a journey through the problem or process together, side-by-side, by encouraging them to read on.

This can be as simple as a brief sentence or short paragraph, but do ensure you include one. It’s also a valuable strategy for online preview, because it plants the thought in readers’ heads to discover more of what you’ve written and have to offer.

A solid introduction is a great way to make your book stand out from the crowd. When readers respond and hit ‘buy’, you’ll know it’s doing its job.

For more handy tips and information on editing and preparing your book for publication, see my free mini-guides!

Why you need to write a book

Pen and book with pages turning

Yes you, lovely reader. You need to write a book!

Seriously, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been thinking about it or are pondering the possibility at the moment.

But there might be all sorts of reasons that are holding you back:

  • Nobody knows me from Adam (or Eve). Surely you need to be famous? I’m not a Times or NYT bestseller.
  • I’m too specialist. No one’s going to want to read it.
  • I know my field, but I’m not a great writer.
  • I’m way too busy. Where can I find the time?

There is one immutable factor: you may well be more likely to cut a book deal with a major publishing house if you’ve been published before, or are a famous name. These days, that is how big trade publishing works: by the numbers and existing traction.

(Whether that has any bearing on how deserving the famous name is to have actually got a deal, or indeed the value of their product, is another matter entirely.)

But – and this is a big but – read on, because it isn’t all bad news.

It’s also a fact that expertise has real value for readers, especially in non-fiction genres such as practical and business books. Publishers are always on the lookout for solid content that delivers.

Not being a name isn’t necessarily going to detract from the possibility of getting a deal.

Niche works too, and perhaps more effectively than you might think. For publishing purposes it’s far better to specialise within your area, become the go-to person for it, than to try and appeal to everyone and everything without real purpose or focus.

You have important intel to share: there may well be readers out there who really want your book, because the one they need simply doesn’t exist yet.

If you have a course or system that you operate, even better. Here, your book is effectively a unique offer. It functions not only as a one-stop shop for your knowledge and positions you as an expert, but can act as a lead magnet to your business.

Writing a book is giving back
Think of it this way: writing a book is a form of philanthropy.

Consider the sheer numbers of people who’ve gained so much just from sitting down to read a book. At their best, books can be life-changing: whether that’s guidance for work, insight into a problem, a system or solution to make the reader’s life easier and better.

Or plain and simple, good old enjoyment!

All of these you can contribute by writing a book.

And the wonderful thing is that a book is your legacy for future generations. You’re creating a body of work and leaving behind something of real worth for many years to come.

Making a start
What do you need to get moving?

Before you put hand to keyboard, it’s important to research well and thoroughly:

  • Look at the current publishing landscape in your topic – if books already exist in your subject area, that means there is a market for them.
  • Find the gap – look at the positions those authors take on it, their content and offer, and see how you can stand out with your own.
  • Research the right publishers – check their lists, see what they’ve published and when. This is important, as a publisher might believe your book is good but perhaps not quite the right fit for them. It’s best not to waste time targeting the wrong channels.

If trying to get a book deal isn’t right for you – and especially if you’d prefer to retain creative control of your project – self-publishing is very much a viable option these days too.

It’s entirely possible to create a quality product that readers will rate and love, and happily take it to market alongside traditionally published works.

Find your USP
Many prospective authors are concerned that writing on the same topic as others out there is simply repetition. In a way this is true, and unavoidable to some degree. If authors didn’t cover at least some of the same topics in their subject area, no books would be written at all!

The key is how to approach it and identify your unique proposition.

Ask yourself:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my take on the topic?
  • What are my prospective readers’ pain points – what do they really want and need?
  • How am I going to solve them – and what is different about my solution?

If you’re working with clients in coaching or consultancy, you’ll already have a really good line into these questions, which will help to create, direct and focus your content.

Gaining clarity on what you’re going to write, for whom and how, are all fundamental to producing a really good book.

Beating the fear
What you might need to do when you start writing (and I hesitate to put it like this, but it can be true sometimes!) is to get out of your own way.

Show your own voice
The reason why people will be picking up your book is because they want to hear and experience you – not someone else, or how you might think they should be hearing you.

You don’t necessarily need to be stuffy or ‘formal’ – that isn’t a prerequisite to publish. In fact, your unique voice and a conversational writing style can work better because it’s more accessible, friendlier, easier to digest and makes for a faster read.

Feel free to share your enthusiasm for, and commitment to, what you do.
It’s fine to show your character and light up the page.

Tell your story
How did you get to where you are?
What is your own experience?
How does it inform the knowledge you’re sharing now?

Your story shows authority and lends gravitas to your content, because you’ve been there, experienced it, taken the time to process and are now ready to share it with others to help them.

Hopefully this should solidify your feeling of being able to write and vanquish impostor syndrome. Just trust that you have something valuable to say. (For more on this, see here.)

Don’t be afraid to publish
As for ‘I’m not a great writer’ – well, it is true that writing is a craft that takes time to master.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t publish.

There are numerous experts out there who are fantastic and leaders in their field – often technical ones, where their vocational focus has rightly been less on the intricacies of the English language, and more on their own specialism – and they’ve still created successful books.

There are a couple of options, if you feel your writing might benefit from being professionally shepherded:

  • Book coaching – this provides active support while you’re writing. Book coaches can help you with outlining and organising your book, review your content as you write, and support you with motivation and accountability.
  • Development editing – an editor can provide you with support when you have a first or further draft ready.  They can assess your manuscript and provide a report and notes to guide you, then work actively with you to refine and complete your text ready for design and publication.

A book coach can help you structure your writing schedule: often, they break down delivery chapter-by-chapter, so you don’t have to come up with a huge amount of content in one go. This way the process is manageable, not overwhelming: you can feel supported and encouraged that you’re getting results within the space you have available.

Development editing works in much the same way, but on a larger scale and often on a longer timeline, with the whole script. Editors understand that you’re writing your book alongside what are usually significant work and life commitments, we don’t pressure to deliver within a constrained time frame if that doesn’t work for you.

Some books take months, others much longer – it really depends on your schedule and what you’re able to achieve. Like any project, it’s fine to allow for a gestation period: time to think, plan, execute and deliver a book of which you can be really proud!

If you’re thinking of writing a book and would like a sounding board for your idea and advice on how to move forward, as well as information on publishing and how it works, I offer a one-to-one confidential call to help you identify and plan your needs.

If this sounds like it could be useful for you, contact me.

Why your first draft isn’t as bad as you think it is

Wastepaper bin with screwed up pieces of paper

Here’s a scenario that every author (and editor) can recognise at some point.

You’ve written your first draft, and are sitting in front of your computer.

The problem is, your internal monologue is having kittens:

It’s terrible, isn’t it.
How much work am I going to have to do to pull this into shape?

You decide to contact an editor for support. Your email hits their inbox, they open it up, look through your sample and smile. Not to themselves because they think your writing is the worst thing they’ve ever seen in the history of literature, and are wondering how on earth to break the bad news.

They’re smiling because they understand that anxiety can be a very real part of the writing process. They have an initial picture of what can be done, and can reassure you it’ll be OK.

Come on, all first drafts are bad aren’t they?
Well, I’d argue no, they aren’t.

It’s a common trope in writing circles that a first draft of anything is naturally going to be dreadful. It’s been bashed out, possibly a ‘pantser’ if fiction (meaning written as you go without a plot map, character arcs or overall plan); or maybe a collection of sections or content needing organisation or structure, if non-fiction.

Classing the condition of any new creative endeavour in a poor light is neither axiomatic nor productive.

Here’s why:

  • It places you as the author at a disadvantage, because you’re operating from a place that’s ‘bad’ to one that’s ‘good’.
  • It automatically assumes that what you’ve done is awful, when it probably isn’t.
  • It places extra pressure on you to come back from that negative place and deliver.

Whenever an author says this about their first draft – that it’s ‘rubbish’ – I refuse to facilitate that. Every script has its own strengths, and even though some editors do employ the term ‘weaknesses’ when they’re discussing a writer’s text, I decline to collude with that term too.

I prefer to say: ‘a manuscript’s strengths, and some areas which might perhaps benefit from review or adjustment’.

Because that is the truth, not diplomatic whitewash.

My take? A first draft is what it is – no more, no less. We’re getting our thoughts out of our head, and that isn’t necessarily going to be pristine or fully formed.

It doesn’t mean the result is ‘bad’.

When we enter into the publishing journey, our first draft is the ground zero, the foundation from which we make a start.

For non-fiction, the purpose of that draft is just to get the information down – and however you choose to do that as an author is OK. Your creative process matters: no one – including you – should slate it!

Having said that: before you start writing non-fiction, it is a good idea to outline your book first, so you have at least a basic map from which to construct, order and expand on the topics you want to include.

The real graft is getting that draft done, so there is something to work with, then refining it, ideally with professional input from an editor – whether that’s structure, content or something else. That will be individual to you as a writer, your output and intention for it, never a one-size-fits-all solution.

Writing is a process, and it can be a long one. Often, we think as we go: new ideas, different angles and fresh content can come to us as we’re redrafting. They can change, be revised or even removed altogether.

It takes time to reach the product that finally goes out to readers.

And that’s perfectly OK.

Slaying the monster
The thing is, authors can be beset by all kinds of anxieties about their writing, from impostor syndrome and perfectionism to creative block and worry about self-expression and clarity.

Heaping scorn on top of that is hardly helpful!

The fact is, by writing a book you are performing a courageous act.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that.

Not everyone has the guts to put themselves out there in print. For every author who has been (self-)published, there are a legion of ‘aspiring authors’ behind them who haven’t had the mettle to step up and share their creative work, expertise or knowledge, for fear of exposure to critique – from an editor, their peers or the wider public.

What motivates you as a non-fiction author is a desire to share for the good and enjoyment of others.

It could be a:

  • business book that proves invaluable for entrepreneurs
  • career guide to advise and lift up entrants or junior personnel in your field
  • practical how-to book
  • hobby guide or manual
  • biography or memoir
  • cookbook for readers to make recipes from your rich cultural heritage
  • travel book recounting your exciting experiences on the road

– and more.

All of these have real meaning, and a good editor recognises that.

Your first draft isn’t ‘rubbish’. It’s just the birth of a new ‘baby’ – and like any newborn, it might need to take a little time to find its feet before it can run!

But it can grow into something truly amazing, if you’re willing to work on it and understand that critique isn’t criticism.

Don’t slate your own work. Believe in its value.

Above all, be sure to find an editor who understands you and your project, who can shepherd your writing with candour and empathy. That’s half the battle won, as they’ll be straight regarding what you need to know to create a successful book and be your cheerleader along the way.

If you’d like to know more about how to work with an editor and the different types of editing, take a look at my free mini-guides!

And if you’d like more information or to have a chat with me about your project, contact me.

The curse of knowledge… and why it can kill your book stone dead

Standing woman with book over her face

When I was at university, I threw a book out of a 12th-floor window.

No doubt this sounds like heresy, coming from a literature grad and professional editor?

Reader, I hold my hands up. I am guilty of this heinous crime against literature.

Well, not exactly literature… Allow me to explain.

You see, the tome in question was a philosophy book on free will and determinism. In the first year at my university, students had to take three different courses other than literature, then specialise in their main subject in the second and third years.

(I went on to do a minor in Russian literature. Don’t ask me about Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy. Seriously, we’ll be here all day.)

The situation is this: I was struggling with writing an essay on the topic, and really needed to study this book to try to wrap my head around it.

The thing is, the concepts of free will and determinism aren’t actually that complex in and of themselves. They can be boiled down to a simple sentence or two.

The problem was that the writing and language conveying them in the book were so impenetrable that I simply couldn’t understand any of it.

It was getting late, and I was desperate to finally get something down to hand to my tutor. In a pique of helplessness and frustration, I opened the window of my high-rise dorm room, cold air blasting my face, and tossed the book out into the night.

And you know what? I didn’t go back down to retrieve it, either.

One of my flatmates studying philosophy for their degree had seen what I’d done from the corridor, howled with laughter, went down to get it, then came back and kindly and patiently sat down over intravenous tea to explain what was in this book, so I could actually unpack what on earth it was trying to say.

There is a certain obnoxious intellectual elitism that wraps up its concepts in language deliberately constructed to shut people out.

If you understand it, you’re in with the ‘in-crowd’. And if you don’t? Writing in such a way that readers find impossible to negotiate is a barrier which basically says:

‘If you aren’t smart enough to understand this, you obviously aren’t worthy of the beneficient wisdom we have to share with you.’

It goes without saying that when you’re writing a book, this isn’t a great strategy. Notwithstanding real terms of art or technical terms essential to your subject, using unnecessarily circumlocutive language can alienate your audience.

It makes them feel confused and unworthy, or just plain irritated and – this is the most important thing – results in their simply not buying your book.

Or if they have already parted with their hard-earned and abandoned it for something easier to digest, delivering an uncompromisingly negative review.

The curse of knowledge afflicts many manuscripts written by experts at some point, but in a different way.

Because the author knows what they’re referring to, they perhaps don’t realise that their readers may not. So they either move on too quickly without clarifying what that thing is or means, or fail to explain why it’s necessary or important.

Assumptions like this can be deadly for a book. Losing your reader kills their interest. And the last thing any author wants their readers to do is put their book down, never to pick it up again.

Or in my case, defenestrate it to what, I considered in fury at the time, was a far worthier place!

One helpful way to avoid the curse of knowledge is to think about how you would sit down and talk with someone who isn’t familiar with your sector.

  • What is their comprehension level – do they know your work or topic to the same degree as you?
  • What do you need to show or tell them to ensure they understand – without ‘teaching’ language that talks down to them, or puts you above them?
  • What do you need to explain to keep the points and concepts clear for them?

Editors sometimes have to challenge authors on this, especially in how-to books. The author’s intention is always laudable: to help by sharing their wealth of expertise, which is positive and good.

But sometimes it is key just to take a step back to check whether the text is meeting the reader’s needs, as well as the goals for the project.

It’s understandable. Ultimately, an author can only write from their own perspective, and it can be challenging to shift their lens to the reader’s. A lot of the ‘curse’ manifests itself unconsciously!

This is where getting feedback from your target audience can be invaluable, through beta reading.

External feedback from the people whom the book is intended to help can rebalance the text, ensuring that they’ll not only find it useful, but enjoyable too.

As for my year of attempting to decipher the great thinkers of the ages, the upshot of my exam was that the philosophy department invited me to switch my degree and join them.

It was a nice offer, but I kindly declined. I’m afraid the thought of another two years of having to plough through this stuff would drive me round the bend.

No, I’d rather stick with Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, thanks!

It wasn’t so bad in the end. Thirty years later, that choice to stay with the subject I love has paid off through a long and happy career in publishing.

Maybe that philosophy book did me a huge favour after all.

How to prepare book prelims

Picture of page taken from Pride and Prejudice

When you’re writing, trying to organise your book prelims can be confusing.

Here’s my superfast guide to getting the order, labels and content right.

Title page
Imprint
Dedication
Contents
Foreword
Preface
Introduction

Title page
This contains your title, subtitle and author name. If you’re publishing under an imprint, the logo goes at the bottom-centre of the page.

Imprint
Otherwise known as the ‘colophon’. This contains:

  • the author name, copyright line and date
  • a statement of right to ownership of the work under the relevant national copyright legislation
  • a legal notice to protect the work from appropriation and unauthorised reproduction
  • disclaimers
  • the ISBN/ASIN number
  • national library deposit information (a legal requirement for publishing print copies) – known as ‘cataloguing in publication data’
  • credits for the book designer, cover designer and if in print, the typesetter and printer.

Dedication
A short line to the person(s) to whom you’d love to dedicate the book. Note: this is not the page for lengthy acknowledgement. Keep it short, sweet and personal!

Contents
This lists the chapter numbers and titles, and the headings throughout the book.

It’s a good idea to keep the amount of headings simple and easy to navigate. Two levels of heading is usually sufficient for a non-fiction book; more if it’s a formal practitioner volume.

If you’re publishing in ebook, the chapter titles on the contents page need to contain hyperlinks to the relevant chapter titles in the book (your copy-editor can do this for you).

If in print, the entries will need page numbers – these will not be the same on the typeset page as your manuscript in Word. Your designer/typesetter can add these after layout to proof.

Foreword
This is copy by invitation, often by a prominent figure in your industry or sector. It gives kudos to the author and endorses the book, and is never written by the author themselves!

Preface
This is written by the author. It’s a brief description of how the book came to be written, what inspired it, how it came about. It does not discuss the actual content.

Introduction
This does discuss the actual content: what the book is going to do, what it contains and, for non-fiction how-to books, how it’s going to help the reader. It can also contain information which shows your experience, expertise and authority to be writing this book.

Depending on how you want to organise your prelims – and especially for online book preview (such as the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon), which tends to be restricted to a certain number of pages – you could include the following as prelims or endmatter (i.e. at the end of the book).

Acknowledgements
This credits those who have supported, inspired or actively helped or advised in the writing of your book. Try to keep these short but again, it’s fine to inject some personality – so long as it isn’t a gushing, oversharing tribute!

About the author
This is your biographical note. Again, don’t make this a life story. It’s fine to extract the salient points to illustrate your experience, authority and any major achievements. It’s also good to include a brief personal line, such as where you live with family, hobbies and so forth.

If you’d like to include your contact details so readers can get in touch, such as your professional/book email address or website, it’s a good idea to place these in a separate concluding page or chapter at the end of the book.

Placement of contact details isn’t set in stone: there are different options and solutions, according to the structure and content of your book.

A note on lead magnets
If you have a system, online resource, training course or product to sell, always put your promo ad and call to action at the end of the book.

Don’t put it at the front or in the main text: this can read as too overtly salesy and cause negative audience response.

And that’s it: a straightforward order, with everything in its place!

I’ve produced some mini-guides to help authors prepare their manuscript for editing, as well as other resources to inform on the different types of editing and how they work.

They’re free – grab your copies here!

How to write online for impact

Picture of person at laptop typing with notebook and phone on the desk beside them

Don’t write like this online…

Where Every Single Short Sentence is on a separate line.

Like this.

And this.

And this.

Why?

Well, it’s literally difficult to read. When we’re taking in information, our eyes need to move physically from one sentence to the next, to be able to make sense of the content.

Writing one short sentence after another is like holding up a massive stop sign at the end of every point.

It flows poorly – and affects tone and argument, turning a piece into a series of bald statements.

Just imagine reading a blog, article or entire book written this way!

There’s a reason why people write online like this: they think it has more impact. And algorithm hacking has told them that the longer people stay on their posts means more engagement and reach.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t stick around for content presented like that. It disengages me. As an editor, I look for great construction.

It’s a sign of a skilled communicator who:

  • really thinks about their audience
  • expresses themselves well
  • understands that communication isn’t a one-way channel.

The key here is that it isn’t just what you write, but how you write it that’s as important.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said:

‘The medium is the message.’

Good structure serves and supports valuable content: it’s key to clarity and cognition. If structure works against content, readers will drop out, fast – and go elsewhere for someone who can give them what they need.

So, don’t be afraid of a paragraph!

Whatever you do, don’t translate persistently short sentences to longform, such as a book. Many writers start out online on social media or blogging, and construct the same way for ebook and print – I see it in scripts I assess.

To be sure, walls of text aren’t good either, whether online or print. They’re just as hard to negotiate, because their sheer density does the opposite: completely buries the information, making it hard for readers to work out what is being said.

Short sentences are great – for impact. Use them wisely and they’ll serve you well.

Otherwise, when you’re writing online, it’s good to keep paras to three or so lines.

That’s the Goldilocks length: not too short, not too long – just right!

How to handle repetition… without repeating yourself

Rows of chairs with the same number repeated

Do you remember the 1980s BBC sitcom, Allo ‘Allo! ?

Set in Second World War France, it was a gloriously silly parody of uber-drab 1970s drama, Secret Army, about the Resistance working to get British soldiers out of the country to safety.

‘Allo ‘Allo!’s secret agent, Louise, always entered a scene covertly to reveal key intelligence with this line:

‘Leesen verry carefully, I shall say zis only wance!’

‘Allo ‘Allo! was replete with corny catchphrases that still amuse to this day… but she has a point.

When we’re writing, we’re aiming for impact. We want our audience to sit up, take notice and absorb what we’re saying. Preferably so we don’t have to say it again!

But sometimes we need to, for two reasons:

  1. to emphasise an important point
  2. to make the same point in a different context

At sentence and paragraph level, the key to handling repetition effectively is to avoid overdoing it.

Overemphasis risks hammering the point home
The problem that overemphasis presents is that it can read as hectoring the audience, irritating and even disengaging them completely.

If we’re writing a how-to book, it’s important to keep them with us: we really don’t want them to abandon it (or worse still, leave a negative review).

Here, it can be useful to ask ourselves:

  • Am I placing myself above my reader, rather than addressing them as intelligent equals?
  • Am I teaching and using language of the classroom, instead of being an expert companion and guiding them through a topic or point?
  • Am I venting personal frustration over a point – maybe even fixated on it?

And significantly, is the amount of repetition indicating that there isn’t enough material to meet the intention and length of the project?

This is important too, because if we are finding ourselves simply repeating the same points over and again, it may well be that we need to expand our range, whether in terms of angle or topics.

In this scenario, adjusting tone and going back to the drawing board to research usually helps to present and vary the content comfortably.

Making the same point in a different context is fine
The ideal way to do this is to call back to the previous incidence, and acknowledge the repetition at this juncture:

‘As mentioned previously…’

‘As we saw in Chapter X…’

– and rephrase the point.

Above all, keep it short. There’s no need to go into detail all over again, as the reader will have already assimilated that information. Usually, the callback is enough to jog their memory, they will know what’s being referred to.

Pet phrases
Every author has words or phrases they love or fall back on. This can vary wildly between writers, but the key thing is to recognise how, when and where it happens, and eliminate it if overused.

It’s fine to employ your favourite phrases once or twice, but over the course of a whole manuscript it can become noticeable.

To help with this, make a thesaurus your friend and consciously work on other ways to convey the same thing. This challenges you to expand your descriptive range; and if you aren’t a natural writer, it’ll help you to improve and hone your craft.

Don’t cut and paste
The one repetition crime never to commit, is cutting and pasting text to appear somewhere else in a script. It’s glaringly obvious to readers when it happens, and presents as lazy work.

Do be sure not to dot the same sentences or paragraphs around your manuscript, in the hope that it won’t be noticed – it will, and readers won’t be pleased about it. Why? Because they’re paying good money for your book, and don’t appreciate content that’s been phoned in.

This is particularly important if you have a book deal: the copy-editor will have been briefed by your publisher to weed out this kind of content, and query it.

Granted, repetition isn’t always easy to spot in our own work – especially when we’ve spent weeks or months writing solidly, and reached the stage where we can’t see the wood for the trees!

It’s understandable we might miss some of it, or be unaware that we’re going over the same ground.

A good editor can help with this: we can guide you and your content to ensure it’s box fresh for your audience.

…And says things only once!

 

For more handy writing tips, check out my free mini-guides!

To write well, you need to do this…

Person holding open book

Read.

As much and as widely as you can!

Why? Because it exposes you to the key elements of good writing: style, structure, story.

Try exploring different genres, go on a journey of book discovery. Find what you like and don’t like.

Ask yourself:

– Why does this writing appeal to me?
– How did it hook me – and keep me on board?
– Why was that so effective?

Above all, read in the genre you want to write in – go deep.

For example, if you’re looking to publish a business book, it’s important to make it your business to get well acquainted – not just with the big name titles and bestsellers, but what’s out there in niche topics too.

Successful business books specialise: they speak to specific pain points and sectors.

There are three good reasons for making this a research exercise:

1. To check out the competition
2. To check out the market sector
3. To work out your book’s USP

Then, find your own voice, angle and style. Just be yourself, because it’s authentic.

That’s what readers are going to want when they settle down to your book.

Something that’s uniquely you!

Why you don’t need to be a perfectionist to write well

neon sign of 'and breathe' on leafy background

Do you need to be a perfectionist to be a good writer?

Perfectionism seems to have replaced impostor syndrome as the anxiety du jour.

I’m here to tell you: no, it isn’t essential. It isn’t even a prerequisite for what we do.

Perfectionism is actually the enemy of creativity, and counterproductive to what you want to achieve. It encourages both an inability to let go, and self-flagellating worry.

There’s a big difference between perfectionism and commitment to excellence.

Perfectionism is setting an impossible standard to achieve, then forcing yourself to go over the same thing time and again without any hope of a satisfactory result.

Committing to excellence is delivering high quality, time after time. It’s realistic, focused productivity, without stressing over a need to get things so perfect that you tie yourself up knots over it and fail to get anywhere.

Much of this shift comes with experience: you become more relaxed and confident in your own ability.

The day we realise perfection is impossible is the day we start being truly productive.

The key is to stop fretting pointlessly, shift our mindset and get on with it.

It’s OK to accept that perfection is unachievable. Why put ourselves through it, when we could be writing?

Instead, we can stop wasting valuable time and energy over it, and commit to excellence instead.

Doing that is good enough!

How to self-edit like a pro

Laptop with text onscreen

Are you writing and wondering what’s the best way to get your draft into shape? You’ve got your content down, now the work of self-editing starts.

Great! But first – and this is really important – set it aside, for as long as you can.

That sounds counterintuitive, right? Here’s why.

Writing is creative, and editing is analytical. They require different mental processes and approaches – it’s hard to do both at the same time.

Trying to edit yourself as you write can get in the way. It stifles creative flow.

Separating the two, and giving your mind a clear breather between them, helps you to reset and go back in fresh.

It also helps you deal with any parts of the text that might be bugging you. Even if the answer hasn’t arrived during your time out, you’ll be in a far better headspace to go back and tackle it.

Doing nothing is a totally valid part of the creative process. It frees your mind to tick over in the background while you’re getting on with other things.

Inspired connections and ideas can pop up when we aren’t consciously focusing on our task.

So don’t feel ‘I’m not writing’ if you aren’t chained 24/7 to your keyboard. Thinking time is just as important too!

So take a good break – as long as you possibly can – then start to edit.

When you’ve done that:

  • Print out your script – it’s useful for quick notes, plus text is easier to analyse on the page than on-screen.
  • Find a quiet time and space where you’ll be undisturbed, and settle into a comfy chair with your pages.
  • Read them aloud – this helps you detach and shift perspective from your writing to the reader experience. Reading aloud also helps with phrasing and narrative flow: you can begin to see where the pauses, paragraphing and structure need to be, as well as punctuation.
  • Make notes, then go back in to edit again.

This process helps you take your script as far as you can, especially if you’re planning to work with an editor.

How do you handle drafting, and what are your challenges in editing your drafts?

I’d love to know! Tell me in the comments below.